When discussing the development of youth athletes – at least in New Zealand, it strikes me that there is very little attention during training that goes into each kids ability to utilise their body in a variety of different movements and situations. And while we are quick to acknowledge a kid who may have grown quickly and is uncoordinated, we don’t do enough to address the inefficiencies that they possess and put them on the right path.
The prominent topic here is kinesthetic sense; real-time awareness of the position and movement of our joints; and how we can help improve this in our young athletes so that they are empowered to heighten the rate of acquisition of both skills as well as each component of athletic ability (speed, strength, reaction time, stability etc).
A good example of this is working with say 2 different u13 kids. Both are right handed, and you ask each of them to perform a left handed layup with the footwork; Left foot(1st step) into right foot(2nd step) jump to finish. The first kid is high in kinesthetic awareness and may take 2-3 attempts to nail the footwork and then has a relatively easy time replicating the task over and over again in the same practice setting. The 2nd kid, who is lower in kinesthetic awareness might take 4-6 attempts to get it right once, but then will still be locked in a battle against their body as they will seemingly at random, still use their right hand or mix up the footwork – essentially taking much longer to make the task easily replicable.
So what got each kid to the point they are now? It is case by case. A varying mix of genetics, experience and exposure to a variety of movements previously and a factor of mindset in willingness to learn / discipline for getting things perfect.
That is where as coaches / trainers we can implement some key aspects into our trainings to help improve the kinesthetic sense in our young athletes no matter what the age / level.
Easy to throw in during warm ups, conditioning units or cooldowns. You want to include a range of integrated (multiple moving parts) and unilateral (single side focused) movements. These are variations of your standard patterns – Press, Pull, Squat, Hinge, Overhead.
Some of the following are examples of common exercises most coaches know and do, that you can throw some flavour on to improve Kinesthetic sense as you go.
- Lunge with ball twist
- Quad stretch with hip hinge
- Wall sit with dribble
- Wall Ball Press / Passing
The keys here are constantly exposing the athletes to a variety of skills and movements that challenge their ability to coordinate their body.
The athletes ability to generate and resist rotation through the trunk and stabilize the whole body through movement. Very important for every developing body, the stronger and more control they have through their core the better they will be able to keep their balance during athletic movements but also at the higher levels, control their body through the air or whilst contorting to generate all kinds of different shots, passes or finishes. Some great drills for this:
- Partner Ball Holds
- Banded Rotations
- Dead Bugs & Prone Holds
Easy for some, not for others. As Coaches & Trainers, as much as we are teaching in the moment – we need to be coaching our athletes on how to develop themselves by having the right mindset / tools for learning – especially since so much development in fact happens during times absent the professional. If the athlete has a good understanding of what they have worked on, and they (either naturally, or through teaching) can focus their attention on the specifics on their own then their development process is accelerated. This is true for all skill work – both on-court and in the gym (performing a good squat is a skill).
There have been kids I have worked with, where I spend 1 hour with them on some keys for improving their shooting such as how to get from the shot pocket, through their release point and into the release itself, all in one motion – then I don’t see them for 2-3weeks. Then we get in again and you can just tell they have been in the gym, diligently repping the one aspect, seeking to understand it, and learning how to feel it kinesthetically. That’s a high level of development in their kinesthetic sense for that particular movement – all driven by themselves.
In summary, there are plenty of activities we can be doing and mindset tips we can be impressing upon our young athletes that will help them down the line – mostly that can fit into 10-15mins of our training sessions, where, if done on a consistent basis, can add up!
There is plenty of attention and planning that goes into an athlete’s development, and every athlete needs to be working on the above if they want to gain an athletic edge or even just close a gap between them and those above. While there will always be genetic differences, and everyone has their strengths and weaknesses at every level, there is always something you can do to improve your game and propel yourself to that next level….. It’s just about how much you want it and how keenly you go out and gain the knowledge & tools that will get you there.
Catch you next time! - Coach Zac